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Ramdev and Balkrishna : Sanyasis who sell soaps

Author Bhavdeep Kang
Could (and his products) have entered lakhs of homes but for his early morning TV show? Housewives, who formed the bulk of his swooning audience, swore by the purity of Ramdev’s masalas, as well as his jams, Juices, squashes, sherbets, salt, atta (wheat flour), candied fruit and washing powder. Baba’s early morning life improvement lessons on TV channels had proved to be a major marketing tool in promoting the and other Patanjali products. These entities are among a 100-odd companies owned by Baba’s trusts in Kanpur, some of which were launched in 2015.

While spiritual leaders like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sandguru Jaggi Vasudev have openly expressed their admiration for his entrepreneurial spirit and genius for marketing, others feel it is not the business of a Sanyasi to sell oil and soaps and acquire huge tracts of land some by highly controversial means - even if it is in the name of a trust. For instance, rumors have it that after Patanjali contracted vast tracts of land in Madagascar to grow its products, the island nation figured in the Indian Enforcement Directorate’s probe list to investigate overseas remittances made by Ramdev’s trusts.

However, in the context of his selling soap and cereal and attempting to sell his brand of “noodles” and now “jeans” too, it must be mentioned that the core of Baba Ramdev’s  business, variously estimated at 2,000 to 5,000 crores, remains the pharmacy. Headed by later, re-christened as “Vaidhyaraj Acharya Balkrishnaji Maharaj”, who is also a director in almost three dozen companies under the Patanjali umbrella, the Divya Trust makes extravagant claims about his knowledge of Ayurveda, starting with a romantical tale of his sojourn in the Himalayas - How between periods of severe penance, he purportedly discovered four herbs, believed to have been extinct, which formed part of the original recipe for Chyavanprash. It gets even better : apparently, he later discovered the mythological Sanjivani buti, which restores the dead to life (in the Ramayana, Lakshman, felled by Indrajit, is brought back to life with the herb).

It follows from the above that so accomplished a physician is capable of curing all manner of “stubborn, chronic and incurable diseases” through a “wonderful” combination of Yoga and Ayurveda “at a very nominal/affordable price”. One wonders why India’s huge, multi-speciality hospitals are inundated with the ailing ad infirm!

Inevitably, Patanjali expanded into the education, setting up an Ayurvedic College, the Patanjali University and a string of gurukuls. The swadeshi guru has an impressive global outreach programme as well, in the form of Yoga centres in the US, Mauritius, Canada, Nepal and the UK, most notably on the Scottish island of little Cumbrae, donated by Sunita Poddar, a Glasgow-based avid follower who cajoled h husband into buying the island to serve as headquarters for Patanjali in UK (in 2013, Ramdev was detained at Heathrow airport as authorities were unsure whether his visitors’s visa ought to have been a business one). In 2008, the Patanjali Yogapith trust bought ninety-four acres of land to build a yoga centre in the suburbs of Houston in the US.

 [ Excerpted with permission from “: Stories of India's Leading Babas” by Bhavdeep Kang, Westland Books, June 2016. Views expressed are writer’s personal ]
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